Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson (2010, Anchor Canada)
The widowed Major Ernest Pettigrew isn’t looking for love at his age, but these things have a way of cropping up when least expected. The sudden death of his brother shocks the long-retired Major into an uncharacteristic state of agitation, and sparks a re-evaluation of his life and the values that are most important to him. It just so happens that the object of his affections, Jasmina Ali, is a new widow herself and at sea between the values of her culture and her late husband’s family and the barely suppressed intolerances of the citizens of the small English village where they both reside. Toss in some significant subplots dealing with Major Pettigrew’s money-grubbing, social-climbing son, and the threat of an American developer and his plans for the revitalization of the village, and you have the nicely-orchestrated tightrope walk that the Major must navigate to achieve happiness and love.
Simonson captures the essence of the village of Edgecombe St. Mary with absolute perfection and deliberation, right down to its inhabitants. Quirky, troubled, warm, and cruel – they’re all exposed, layer by layer. Sadness and hilarity often occur in the same paragraph, and there is much that the reader can relate to on an emotional level. It’s not a mind-blowing read, but it’s hardly subtle, either – there is bold social commentary couched within the gentle writing.